In all the commercial hype surrounding Christmas, do we forget the most profound and important things of all? Let’s look at some of the most important things that a human being can do at Christmas, things we don’t want to neglect? We will look at Luke 3:7-18 and see what profound changes John expected with preparation for Christ’s coming.
When is religion meaningless? In Isaiah 1:10-17 God chastised Israel for performing religious duties while having their hands covered with the blood of innocent victims. Stand up, sit down, genuflect, raise your hands, cross yourselves, put up Christmas lights, exchange gifts, sing Amen, shout Hallelujahs, praise the Lord, speak in tongues, bow your heads and swing that incense censer. None of these things is evil. They are all good if they come from God and are used for good. But John the Baptist called some religious people the children of snakes. Was it an allusion to the devil? Was he saying that, without repentance all or any religious dedication is worthless? Is he saying to us that, genuine religion is evidenced by seeking justice and helping the oppressed as James wrote (1:27)?
Nationalism is not new. It creates in us an air of superiority. The British Empire was the “kingdom of God on earth” and the royals were “defenders of the faith.” Then we learned the truth about British atrocities in many countries. America used the polite term “regime change”3 when overthrowing popularly elected governments to set up puppet dictatorships, while we believed it was making the world safe for Democracy. Nationalism blinds any people to their country’s sins. John the Baptist preached that his fellow citizens believed they were alright with God because faithful Abraham was their ancestor. They were blind to widespread national tax corruption, extortion and injustice in treating the poor and hungry. From government and industry leaders to ourselves, our whole nation needs to repent.
 Brendon, Piers. The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997. Vintage Books, 2010. 335.  Sir Richard Baker, Edward Phillips, Sir Thomas Clarges. A Chronicle of the Kings of England. H. Sawbridge… B. Tooke… and T. Sawbridge. 1684. Great Britain. 321. 3 Kinzer, Stephen. Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. Times Books. 2006.
What is a confirmation of repentance? Repentance is primarily a change of heart, confirmed by fruits, good works. John the Baptist addressed the need to change our hearts and our deeds. We see John’s concerns even today, exploitation of taxes for personal gain and misuse of military might to enrich ourselves. Baptism is confirmed in a decision to repent. Baptism by fire is threefold: a baptism by fire occurred as flames of fire resting upon people’s heads on that first Pentecost, a baptism by fiery trials and judgment to come in which the “chaff” will be burned with unending fire. Hell “fire and brimstone” preaching can easily be overdone or ignored completely. Yet, Jesus does preach about final judgment in fire. He also appeals to us to repent so that we don’t have to face it.
What do winnowing and burning have to do with Christmas? Winnowing is the process of separating a grain from its hulls or chaff using moving air. Chaff is indigestible to humans, but cattle can eat it as fodder. It can be plowed into the ground or burned. Response to John the Baptist’s preaching was like winnowing. Now is the day to respond to today’s message and repent. Jesus will judge, then burn up the chaff and preserve the wheat based on familiar criteria. How do we treat the hungry and thirsty? How is our hospitality to strangers or foreigners? How is our giving to those who need clothing? What is our treatment of those who need health care? How do we treat imprisoned criminals (Matthew 25:31-46)? Where will we be on the judgment day, among the wheat or chaff?
Don’t get lost in the commercial glitz and forget what’s really important. Let us remember the profound transformation that Christmas has brought to us.